Social Connections 12 was held in Vienna Austria between October 16 & 17. Turk Ergun and myself decided (almost at the last minute) to make the trip to Vienna and represent Red Pill Now. The following are some of things that caught our attention during the course of the two days:-
Being our second Social Connections event this year we already knew to expect a more positive tone than is often found at events that focus more on Notes/Domino. Here we have a mix of customers and business partners that are using IBM’s social collaboration stack such as Connections and (now) Watson Workspace. They are what Red Pill Now refers to as the “committed” customer. Its always good to be part of a community that is not only passionate, but also positive about its outlook. At this event I started to hear a lot of mentions of fighting back. A sense that IBM was getting ready to take on Microsoft O365 and other competitors based upon an understanding it was no longer acceptable just to defend existing market share, but that it was going to be necessary to win new customers. I know there are a lot of cynics out there, and given IBM just announced its 22nd consecutive quarter of declining revenue, its not hard to understand why. I’m not yet ready to proclaim that ICS has turned the corner, but I do consider it is now prudent for us to consider that possibility.
The single most significant thing IBM is doing in the ICS space continues to be the Connections Pink strategy spearheaded by Jason Gary. For me the highlight of the conference was the final session in which Jason provided an update on what he is doing and how he is doing it. It is an approach I have not seen anywhere else and (IMHO) represents the single best opportunity for IBM to turn around its ICS fortunes. As we all know, a big part of the success of Notes/Domino was the innovative nature of the product itself, something that competitors struggled to define, much less reproduce for many years. IBM Connections has always felt like a “me too” product that struggles to provide a compelling reason to attract new customers. The Pink architecture provides a base for establishing a platform for the future. The Pink philosophy has the potential to allow ICS to be far more responsive in meeting the evolving needs of customers. As Jason puts it, he doesn’t want to head a team that builds software FOR customers and partners, but rather build software WITH customers and partners. As evidence of this Jason announced that 10% of the Connection Pink code has been contributed by IBMers outside his team.
The release of Connections 6 in March has started what I expect will be a 2-3 year transformation of the Connections product from being a follower in a crowded market space to being more of an innovative platform that is architected in a way that entices a growing base of equally innovative partners to build a new generation of solutions that take us closer towards the full potential of Enterprise Social Software.
I was able to see 3D Search for the first time, in what looks like an attempt to combat Microsoft Graph by taking search in a new direction. There weren’t a lot of details provided, but given Red Pill Now’s well established interest in graph databases, we are certainly interested in learning more of what IBM has to offer here. Especially if the opportunity exists to extend this to include data held in Notes databases.
Details about Orient Me was shared at Social Connections 11 in Chicago. OrientMe is the first of a new generation of solutions being added to Connections and provides a Connections user with the ability to consolidate information relevant to them to be consolidate into a single page. New enhancements (OrientMe 2 and OrientMe Cloud) are planned during 2018.
Formerly known as Project Muse, IBM Connections Customizer provides Connections enthusiasts with an API that allows a wide range of UI elements within Connections to be customized. It works by creating a proxy between the browser and the underlying Connections product providing the opportunity to directly change the JSON payload being sent to Connections, or passed back from Connections. This is great news for IBM Business Partners who will be looking for ways to integrate there own products into Connections allowing pages or communities to be configured as needed for specific purposes.
When IBM acquired TIMETOACT’s XCC product in May, it promised to make this available as IBM Connections Engagement Center (CEC). This was the first event in which I have had the chance to see the results up close. Its hard to imagine why IBM hadn’t been trying to develop something like this for Connections all along. And if they weren’t its easy to see why they would want to purchase this. It reminds me of a ECM product like WordPress or even Confluence allowing a library of widgets to surface content from inside and outside Connections on a page to meet the specific needs of communities. It’s a bit like OrientMe at a group level. Now you have my interest IBM. Up until this point I have never seen that Connections was a product aimed at anything else but the Enterprise market. Here we have a solution, that is not exactly unique, but given everything else it offers, I could do provides something that a SMB like my own company could actually find useful.
The road map for CEC includes an initial release of the on-premise product followed by a cloud version early next year and a Pink version of the product perhaps later in 2018. I am not sure if I got this right, but it sounded like IBM is considering making this an add-on product for Connections. Really! You have a product that has often struggled with getting adoption and a feature that allows me to finally build the team of communities/team spaces I want but that becomes a chargeable extra! That’s like building me a new home and then telling me the front door, that allows convenient access to the home, is an optional extra.
The latest version of LiveGrid was on show this week allowing us to see the progress being made on IBM’s low-code/no-code application development offering that is expected to be released in 2018. The product being demonstrated is now more refined that earlier prototypes in look and feel and its is clear expectations on how many @formula will be available in in the first release is much less than the early plans. The things I think we can expect to see is the loading of data in new grids from Excel and CSV files that would be persisted in MongoDB as well as the ability to build a grid from data held in a Notes database. Highly anticipated features such as the ability to join grids together using a join may get deferred to a later release.
It seems that LiveGrid 1.0 will fall short of the functional requirements many will expect as a potential replacement for some of the Notes functionality, but if IBM provide the level of API support they are doing as part of the Pink architecture that creates a huge opportunity for business partners to fill. One example being the potential for Darwino’s to replicate LiveGrid data.
It sounds like the next major feature to be added to Connections as part of its “pinkification” will be something presently known as People Services. This seems to fill an important void between the existing Connections Profile service in Connections and the type of functionality O365 is able to offer with its growing integration with LinkedIn.
I was surprised at how much new stuff was delivered at this event. Its reminds me a lot of the hey-day of Lotus Notes when the community would attend LotusSphere excited about the many new announcement that would be made. If you are already a Connections user you can’t help be excited about what IBM is planning to deliver in 2018. If you are sitting on the fence then the many new features coming over the next 12 months may be the difference. And if you are a traditional Notes/Domino shop that hasn’t really considered Connections, we can only hope that IBM will find a way to make Connections relevant. Its going to take more than LiveGrid on its own, but the growing capabilities of Connections combined with some powerful APIs are opening doors that didn’t previously exist.
And finally, congratulations to the team that put together this event. Not just once, but twice each year on different continents. Vienna was a great location and the venue was nothing short of spectacular. I look forward to having the chance to return to Connections 13 wherever it may be held in 2018.